NFPB members met in early October and late November, in Penrith and York respectively. Common themes linked the two meetings, with a number of people joining us to speak and to explore current issues and challenges. Facing a continued drift towards increased militarism and military spending, alongside a political environment that is become more polarised and fearful, in the UK and beyond, Friends have been in a sombre but determined mood.
In October, Penrith Quaker Ruth Harvey, the newly appointed director of Place for Hope , gave an account of that project’s work to support faith communities in dealing with conflict, as well as inviting us to explore our own feelings about conflict and particular areas of conflict arising from the EU referendum. Opening up differences, Ruth suggested, can lead to greater understanding. But before getting to that point, having an understanding of our own different approaches and attitudes to conflict was important.
Our second speaker was Julie Ward, one of the Labour Party’s MEP’s for North West England. Julie’s passion and energy in using her time as an MEP to promote the causes of peace, justice and participation were striking. As well as outlining the opportunities for positive political engagement at the European level, she gave an account of her work on issues ranging from women’s and children’s rights, inter-cultural dialogue, Palestine and Israel, to nuclear disarmament and European responses to the needs of refugees.
At our November meeting in York, NFPB member and Edinburgh Friend Janet Fenton described the process that had led to the UN committing itself to working towards a global nuclear weapons ban treaty (see http://www.icanw.org/campaign-news/un-votes-to-outlaw-nuclear-weapons-in-2017 ) . Through her involvement with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Janet had been able to attend key UN working group discussions and other sessions that prepared the ground for this decision, and she urged us to ask our government and MPs to play a constructive role in this unique multi-lateral disarmament initiative.
Michael Elstub of Settle Meeting was our second speaker in York, on the subject of Veterans for Peace . Michael’s personal account of his journey was powerful and moving testimony; from becoming an army dentist (they helped pay his student fees), through long but uncomfortable service in the army to becoming an active Quaker and member of the UK branch of Veterans for Peace. VfP continue to grow in the UK and their members are keen to speak to groups to help give a fuller picture of life in the armed forces.
We ended our last session of the year in discussion and reflection, looking ahead and exploring priorities, opportunities and resources for our work. Insights and approaches to peace work that are rooted in our Quakerism should and can inform what we do. There are opportunities to speak out, to ask questions, but also to listen – meeting and talking with people who have very different perspectives as well as drawing support from our own community. NFPB is beginning the process of developing workshops for Friends and others on these themes.